What is important for the international professional woman when she ventures abroad, is not to loose her drive or motivation, according to Associate Professor Laura E. M. Traavik and Professor Astrid Richardsen at BI Norwegian Business School.

Research @ BI: Women in business

The number of women who take on international assignments or re-establish their careers in a foreign land is growing.

In our investigation we wanted to uncover whether and how international professional women in Norway achieve career success.
Norway has one of the highest participation rates of women in the workforce in Europe, and a reputation as the land of gender equality.

So what happens to foreign international women when they enter this labour market? Which factors contribute to or hinder career success in the Norwegian context?

What is the prognosis?

Career success can be defined by both objective and subjective criteria. Objective career success is measured looking at visible outcomes such as earnings or promotions, whereas subjective career success is measured through self report questions related to the individual’s assessment of their career and job satisfaction.

Traditionally career success depends on the investments people make in themselves (for instance, education and personal and professional experiences), the degree of supervisor support, the training and development they receive, and the access they have to organizational resources. Potential barriers to career success for international women depend on the country they try to work in, organizational culture, biases and also a woman’s own perceptions, beliefs and motivation.

What happens in Norway?

So what happens to these international women in Norway?  Some of the statistics suggest that foreign women face a double disadvantage when seeking jobs in Norway however we wanted to ask the women themselves.

A questionnaire was developed to measure demographic variables (age and background), human capital variables (eg, education), individual difference predictors, and both objective (eg,  earnings) and subjective (eg, how satisfied are you?) measures of career success. The sample consisted of 168 International and 125 Norwegian women.

Although our group of international women was diverse, we found that on average international women can achieve high objective career success in Norway, just like Norwegian women, if they are motivated, have high education, and high language competence. However, being foreign continues to have a negative impact on women’s subjective career success. 

We found that although women’s career success is affected by their foreign status in Norway, this effect does not tell the whole story.  The whole story includes the woman’s own competencies, human capital, and motivation. The good news from our research, then, is that women are also succeeding in the international arena on their own.

High motivation pays off

The practical implications of our findings for international career women are twofold. First, investments in education can contribute significantly to career success. In our study we found that English language competency contributed to both objective and subjective career success.

This has interesting implications for women wanting international careers. Although learning local languages can be desirable, it can be equally advantageous to know English. Finally, what the international woman wants matters. Those women with high motivation do achieve their goals.

What is important for the international professional woman when she ventures abroad is not to loose her drive or motivation. High motivation does relate to career success.


Traavik, L. E. M., & Richardsen, A. M. (2010) Career success for international professional women in the land of the equal? Evidence from Norway. International Journal of Human Resource Management, 21(15), 2798-2812.


Text: Associate Professor Laura E. M. Traavik and Professor Astrid M. Richardsen, Department of Leadership and Organizational Behaviour at BI Norwegian Business School. 


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